Monday, 13 September 2010

Who Betters The Watchmen?

I've been thinking about Alan Moore a lot recently. I picked up the first issue of his new magazine "Dodgem Logic", and it was interesting, very much so, and it's help put Zenith! in position again, in my head. Underground magazine publishing, yes. But that's not what I was thinking about. I was thinking about Watchmen, his opinions on the comic book industry since Watchmen, and my own opinions on Watchmen and similar works.

There's this great interview with Alan Moore by Adi Tantimedh over at Bleeding Cool (click to read) that also played a hand in the way I'm thinking right now. Talking about how DC have offered Alan the rights to Watchmen back if he gives them permission-- perhaps a blessing?-- to work on sequels, prequels, all the terrifying marketable machine bits that would make them a whole lot of money. But the fans, as much as they love Watchmen (for some right reason and some wrong) wouldn't enjoy a Watchmen sequel. They wouldn't. If you've even got a passing knowledge of comics, you know that Watchmen is this pure thing, this nigh-untouchable project that cannot be continued, extended, whatever. I don't care about film adaptations, really. I don't think they damage the source material. So what if they changed elements? Philip Pullman once said that: "every film has to make changes to the story that the original book tells — not to change the outcome, but to make it fit the dimensions and the medium of film." and that's perfectly fine, in my opinion. You have to make the film the distilled version of the book-- how else can you get the story out in the best way?

But I digress.

History Lesson: Alan Moore assumed he'd get the rights to Watchmen back in the 80s. But DC never let it out of print, it's always been available, so that never came about. A lot of shit happened between then and now, and so we're in this weird position where Alan Moore is divorcing himself from the comic book industry and his old friends (he's fallen out with David Lloyd over the V for Vendetta adaptation, and now he's fallen out with Dave Gibbons over the Watchmen film) because of this project from the mid-eighties.

I think Alan Moore insults the industry when he makes himself out to be the pinnacle of literary artistry. I get bored of that. He was good, in his day, but what has he done that became as big as Watchmen or V for Vendetta (which I don't actually like)? Sure, his Top Ten projects have been big, but they're not on the same scale, are they?

A few quotes of interest from that interview that kind of anger me:

"I could ask about why Marvel Comics are churning out or planning to bring out my ancient MARVELMAN stories, which are even older, if they had a viable idea of their own in the quarter-century since I wrote those works."

Because they were good? Because they stand up? Because a whole generation or two has heard of the Marvelman stories, the epic stories that Moore, Steve Bissette, Neil Gaiman and co. worked on and want to experience them for themselves? How is that unfair? Since I started reading comics, since I really got into them in my teens, I've wanted to read Marvel/Miracleman. Since I read about the legal troubles between Gaiman and Todd McFarlane I wanted to see what the fuss was about. I mean, this is important stuff. This is British comics that made a difference. And they've been locked in legal limbo for years and I want to read them. Sure, I would prefer to have the originals in my hand, but if Marvel are going to reprint the Moore/Gaiman runs, why shouldn't I leap at that chance? Stop ruining my enjoyment, Alan Moore.

"Just simply get some of your top-flight talent to put out a book that the wider public outside of the comics field find as interesting or as appealing as the stuff that I wrote 25 years ago. It shouldn’t be too big an ask, should it?"

This is something I intend to talk about below, but I thought I'd share it here first...

"They must have one creator, surely, in the entire American industry that could do equivalent work to something I did 25 years ago. "

Is it wrong that I find this to be horrifically arrogant of him? Like there was a Golden Age of Comics that started and ended with Alan Moore, and no one else can compete? I've enjoyed comics since. Yes. But the thing is... when was the last time there was a comic book written that had the same literary, mainstream punch as Watchmen? Or Maus, for instance? Maus won a Pulitzer! Sin City could count, but I feel like that was more of a maxi-series, and the film was what made people pay attention.

The eighties were good, no doubt. We had so many transcendental series come out-- Moore's Swamp Thing, Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, Miller's The Dark Knight Returns as well as his Year One. Those were epic series that changed the face of the comic book industry. But when has anything changed the face of the industry since? In the 90s it was the domain of Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis and Grant Morrison, with The Preacher, Transmetropolitan and The Invisibles being the go-to for alternate comic book that shift the paradigm. In the 2000s we had Ex Machina, Y, The Last Man, Top 10 and Tom Strong, but... they don't work like I want them to work in the structure of this conversation.

But they weren't the same, I don't think. 12 issues. A maxiseries. Not a 80 issue opus... I'm talking stories that are complete in their entirety within twelve issues. That's not a thing anymore, is it? Grant Morrison came close with All-Star Superman, which I love, but I think I disqualify that in my head because it's Superman. It's not original. I want new content, I want something that makes me think and makes me fall in love with it like I did James Robinson's Starman.

"Just simply get some of your top-flight talent to put out a book that the wider public outside of the comics field find as interesting or as appealing as the stuff that I wrote 25 years ago. It shouldn’t be too big an ask, should it?"

It really shouldn't, no Alan.

Brian K. Vaughan has done some amazing stuff recently, the closest it comes to counting. Ex Machina was superb, a planned maxiseries that recently came to an end. Same as Y, The Last Man. Focused. Painstakingly created. Ex Machina is closer to what I'm thinking than Y, because there was one, consistent art team on that (Tony Harris, tying close to Starman with that, yes) whilst Pia Guerra traded duties with Goran Sudzuka on occasion. Garth Ennis is working with Darick Robertson on The Boys, another planned maxiseries... another finite end...

(And what is it with these specific writers working on these projects? Darick Robertson worked on Transmetropolitan, Garth Ennis on Preacher and now The Boys... Brian K. Vaughan on these maxiseries, too...)

...but do they make sense like Watchmen did, in the context of this conversation? I think Warren Ellis does the most promising work in that field, his projects, such as Ocean, Ministry of Space, Orbital, short, complete works that are beautiful and amazing. He's given us Planetary, but that has ties to the Wildstorm universe so I don't think I can count it-- even though it is the tightest of the projects to be considered. Global Frequency is the inverse of the idea, with one writer and a selection of amazing artists, twelve issues of loosely connected stories. I love that book, but it's not the same. But these titles don't reach the heights established at the heights of the eighties. They don't sell as many copies as Watchmen, they don't make the same amount of money. People aren't scrambling about to scream about them in the daily press. They should be, sure, but they should be something more. Something amazing and ascendant.

I want to see a comic, twelve issues, one complete story, like Camelot 2000, like Watchmen, something that inspires generations. Where would we be without Watchmen? I don't think the comic industry could have lasted without that shot in the arm. But at the same time, we shouldn't be dragging our heels and holding onto the past like we insist on doing. We need to prove Alan Moore wrong, because he's not what he used to be.

I think if Geoff Johns wasn't writing for DC... I don't think his work would be as good. Brian Michael Bendis does good work on Powers, and on Scarlet, but again, not the same. Mike Mignola is my hero and doing something that should become a modern folktale with Hellboy, but it's so far pushing ten trades and promising more, so it's not the 12 issue shape I was talking about. I want something to make us think, and sure, we get that with ongoings, and minis and maxis, but we need to make sure Alan Moore isn't right else we'll be stuck in this horrific rut for the rest of our lives.

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